One of my favorite cookbook authors and food personalities Nathalie Dupree offers an insight on gender inequality and the U.S. Southern home kitchen. Men have long been raised to feel entitled to spend thousands of dollars on golf clubs and greens fees or some other sporting indulgences with no hope of ever achieving even a ranked amateur status. Yet, women learn to feel guilty for “wasting” barely a dollar’s worth of flour, dairy, and leavening if their first attempt at making biscuits not cookies, though the said could be said there, too! isn’t perfect.
In either rescuing or repurposing dishes whenever possible and always learning from their mistakes, I see my grandmothers’ attempts to assuage their guilt over kitchen “failures.”
And so it was that I was recently gripped with the desire to make these airy heaps of baked dough to eat as part of breakfast for a week. In late April I began a new professional adventure with an organization near the Washington (DC) Convention Center where AIDS 2012 took place. Just two blocks away lies a hidden foodlovers gem of the city, Saints Paradise cafeteria of the United House of Prayer for All People, or “Big Daddy Grace’s” to many locals.
In the basement of the church one finds a bright spacious dining room with a serving line at one end offering some of the best soul food in the area from 7am to 5pm, and neither breakfast, lunch, nor dinner is complete without cornbread or a big biscuit made from scratch. On my first day I was so thrilled to be near Daddy Grace’s that I got a salmon cake, cheese eggs, grits and a biscuit for breakfast and barbecued chicken, corn, macaroni and cheese, and a biscuit for a very late lunch/early dinner.
This recipe makes a dozen rustic, freeform biscuits, no rolling, folding, or cutting required. I like the mix of fats to achieve a taste that is neither overtly butter, nor smacks of Crisco. Using ½ cup chilled bacon grease plus 1 teaspoon ice water and ¼ cup something else will impart a smoky quality :)
3 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 sticks) chilled unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening (or more butter)
1 cup cold buttermilk, plus 12 teaspoons more, as needed
Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda together in a large bowl. Refrigerate covered. Cut butter and shortening into ¼inch pieces, and refrigerate covered at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Using fingertips, pastry fork or a stand mixer on low, rub chilled fats into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1 cup buttermilk and stir until evenly moistened. Add additional buttermilk if dough feels stiff; it should feel pliable and tacky, not loose or runny.
Drop ¼ cup of dough onto baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake until biscuits are golden brown on top, around 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm or store in an airtight container once completely cooled.
Among an audience of mixed food traditions the question invariably arises about how these three breads differ. The table below summarizes how they vary in three important aspects: the use of sugar, eggs, and technique.